Thursday, July 10, 2008


Why is it that popular culture defines leadership in terms of who can out manipulate those around them? Take a look at how TV “reality shows” portray what it takes to be a good leader. In shows like the Apprentice or Survivor, those who “win” demonstrate leadership by stabbing others in the back, or somehow either manipulating or outright forcing those they’re working with toward a goal. Is that really good leadership? Aren’t these shows teaching our young people that a good leader is the person standing at the top of the pile when all others fall? That’s not what leadership really is.

In my military career, I’ve worked with a number of different leaders; some good and some bad. The good ones are those you’d (literally) go to war with. You know that they’ll put the interests of the mission (the goal of the organization) ahead of their own personal interests. You know that they’ll do everything they can to make it possible for you (and the mission) to succeed. You know they’ll support you when you’re performing your best and let you know when you’re not. You can trust a good leader. Good leaders come in all shapes and sizes; there’s not a one-size-fits-all mold for great leaders. Good leaders do have some characteristics in common. They’re strong-minded. They’re innovative. They have a well-grounded value system. They are tough and demanding, yet compassionate when necessary. They can evaluate people. They believe in themselves and in their followers. They are flexible when necessary, but can be iron-willed when it counts. It doesn’t matter whether the leader has a “kick butt and take names” personality or is a laid-back flower-child-type. What matters is that the leader has the good judgment to know when and how to act in any particular situation.

Our young people shouldn’t look to popular culture for examples of how to be a good leader. Unfortunately, more and more of them are. Instead, we should teach leadership; at home for certain and in the schools, maybe. I do know that we wouldn’t have to look very far for better icons of leadership than those brought into our homes through TV. History provides us with some great leaders to study, as does current events; General Petraus for example. Leadership is something that can be taught, and it should be.

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